The World Health Organisation (WHO) warned Wednesday that the omicron variant of the coronavirus is dangerous and should not be taken lightly.
During a press conference, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, “While Omicron causes less severe disease than Delta, it remains a dangerous virus – particularly for those who are unvaccinated.”
“We mustn’t allow this virus a free ride or wave the white flag, especially when so many people around the world remain unvaccinated,” he said.
Those who haven’t been vaccinated for COVID-19 yet have more reason to worry, as the ‘overwhelming majority’ of people admitted to hospitals are unvaccinated, he added.
More than 15 million cases were reported to the WHO last week – with millions more cases thought to have gone unrecorded, according to news agency AFP.
“More transmission means more hospitalisations, more deaths, more people off work — including teachers and health workers — and more risk of another variant emerging that is even more transmissible and more deadly than Omicron,” he said.
He stated that the number of deaths had stabilised worldwide, “Learning to live with this virus does not mean we can, or should, accept this number of deaths.”
The WHO chief also spoke about vaccine inequity. “In Africa, over 85 percent of people are yet to receive a single dose of vaccine. We can’t end the acute phase of the pandemic unless we close this gap,” said Tedros.
On Tuesday, the WHO’s senior emergency officer for Europe, Catherine Smallwood, told media outlets, “We still have a huge amount of uncertainty and a virus that is evolving quite quickly, imposing new challenges. We are certainly not at the point where we are able to call it endemic.”
The WHO’s warning came a day after Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez urged authorities in Spain to treat the omicron variant like the flu.
Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead on the disease, said the virus is expected to evolve further, possibly leading to more outbreaks.
“We expect the virus will continue to evolve and become more fit… we expect to see outbreaks among unvaccinated individuals. The virus is well on its way to becoming endemic — but we’re not there yet,” she said, reported AFP.